Habits Give Shape to the Day

(Second in a series on working from home.)

A day is precious; we can never get it back. Even if we live to be say, 80, we have less than 30,000 of them. A day is a story – given shape with a good beginning, a build towards resolution, a satisfying ending. Image result for story arc

Everyone, but especially those of us who drive our own workday from home, need habits that give it shape, meaning and energy.

In the same way that bad habits sabotage us, good ones carry us effortlessly in the right direction. Formed within a few months, they serve us well the rest of our lives.  Most of us can brush our teeth, for instance, without an agony of will or effort.

Given the choice, I would spend the greater part of each day in bed, alternately napping, reading novels and eating chocolates. Here are some habits that have led to other outcomes:

A Good Beginning:

Getting up at the same time each day is a really good idea. If you get up when others around you do, it takes less effort. My teenagers don’t need me in the morning any more, but it’s good to see them, join the bustle, ride their energy to get going.

Eating something that won’t cause you to die young is another good idea. More on food in another post.

Focusing mind and spirit on what’s good and true feeds our work as tangibly as our bowl of granola. As a Christian, I read a few pages of the Bible and then some other good book. Ann Voskamp’s “Broken Way” is my latest favorite. This is the best time of the day for me, taking in energy before the demands of the day kick in.

Goals for the Middle:

Everyone needs to walk the line between legalism and aimlessness when it comes to schedules. I hate routine, but without a list for the week and then a list for the day, I will literally stand in the middle of the room and pivot in circles – at home there is something to do everywhere you look.

Some people use fancy apps, some people put sticky notes on the wall, but the challenge is to pick a system and work it. Some need this to do enough work, others need it to make themselves stop.

Many professionals who work remotely tend to work themselves into the ground, equating hours put in with competence and success. Actually, after less than fifty hours a week, the returns sharply diminish. For years I set myself up for discouragement with lists that were just too long. That was dumb. Now I write lists I can finish and I feel like a rock star.

An Ending you can Live With:

I know a writer who finishes each day by reading out loud to his wife. Way to go, Mitch. An actress I tour with catches up with friends online till she starts to nod off. Another friend likes to play Spider Solitaire, whatever that is. She told me the other day she thinks she should be reading at night instead. I disagreed. I think we need to be able to look forward to doing whatever we want to do at the end of the day, provided that’s not injecting heroin, or eating 30 Twinkies – you know, something not destructive.

If my solitaire-loving friend thinks she should read more, then that is a discipline to be added to the work  list, not something she should make herself do when she finally has a few minutes for herself.

Finally, as we close the book on the day, it really helps to review what we accomplished and what we’re grateful for. Those are great thoughts to sleep on.

The Ladder to Joy (10 Ways to Spiritually Recharge, Part V)

I see only one way out of the problem of suffering. Only one way not to be crushed by the reality of pain, evil and death. One ladder out of the deep hole.

I observe that people who don’t find it do one of three things; kill themselves, break with reality, or hang on in quiet desperation, as the song says – escaping into distractions which tend to become addictions.

The ladder out is the practice of gratitude. I’m not talking about humming a happy little tune; I’m talking about a deep discipline that slowly but profoundly lifts us into joy.

I have the right to speak to this; I am one of the most cynical people I know. I remember sitting on a merry-go-round at the age of three, wondering what everyone was smiling about. “What’s the point?” I thought. “We’re just going around and around.”IMG_20160109_151947918

If you are as cynical as me, the practice of gratitude sounds glib. Nothing is worse than some jackass telling you to count your blessings. I’m not just talking about seeing the glass half full. I’m talking about discovering a reality beyond suffering.

We bring presuppositions to the way we live. One is, “God is not good (or non-existent) and doesn’t care about me.” Another is, “God is good, and God loves me.” I think the first presupposition, which is now prevailing in our culture, sucks for two reasons. It gives us no way out of despair. Nor does it account for the wonders of beauty, love, redemption, joy and those transcendent experiences that shout how much we matter. The second option, on the other hand, doesn’t account for the ridiculous amount of suffering we go through.

Unless. Unless we hang on to the “God is good and God loves me” option, with the understanding that this God has unlimited vision, we have limited vision, and we can trust God to make sense of suffering in the end, plus help us as we go through it.

This is the belief system of Christians, but many of us don’t really believe it. So we need a ladder to take us from our experience in the hole of despair, up to the light of freedom that our theology promises. The way I climb the ladder is to look for what is good, here and now, in this moment. Then acknowledge it to God.

People who aren’t Christian can take the same ladder. It works for everyone. If you don’t believe in God, pretend for a while. See what happens.

Search for good like a researcher racing for the disease cure, like a detective on the crime of the century. Because the joy that comes from gratitude is our cure, it is our life’s seminal work.

So, I am sitting in an armchair alone in my house on a spring morning, looking out a window, journal in my lap. I could list off a number of tragedies unfolding in the lives of all those around me. (There are times for that too, but not now.) Now I write:

Thank you,

For the restoring power of a quiet house.

For the hypnotic peace of slowly moving clouds.

For green growth everywhere- a soft, vibrant life where there was nothing. 

I reflect on the day before.

Thank you,

For the kindness of medical staff, fitting in one more appointment for a loved one in pain.

For the brilliant writing of the script I got to rehearse.

For the joy of seeing someone with dementia, having a joking, lucid conversation with my son. 

As I write, I begin to sense a huge, benevolent power moving in all things, through clouds, through plants, through brain circuitry. I realize I am being carried in that power, always blessed, even in the middle of tragedy.

The rungs of the ladder, for me, are writing and speaking gratitude. I was taught this by Ann Voskamp in her incandescent book, “One Thousand Gifts.” The writing and the speaking rewires thinking away from despair. We begin to see goodness and love as the deeper realities – how they triumph.